8 ways to communicate more effectively with customers and co-workers

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Here are 8 practical tips to guide you toward better communication in the workplace and steer you away from potential conflicts and confusion.

By: Brittany LeMaro, Betach Marketing Analyst

We have all cringed at a scene in ‘The Office’ that was awkwardly relatable. When Michael Scott avoided communicating bad news by putting Dwight in charge of selecting the cheapest health insurance plan possible and informing the rest of the group of the decision, or any of the other countless communication-blunder examples. However, when experiencing poor-communication first-hand in your career, it is typically not met with the same laughter.

Developing good communication habits can help prevent misunderstandings, build positive relationships, and enable effective collaboration in the workplace. Here are 8 practical tips to guide you toward better communication and steer you away from potential conflicts and confusion.

1. Beware of Interrupting

Be careful about interrupting others, particularly your customers. They'll be especially upset if, while they're explaining a problem, you interrupt them and start offering a solution.

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2. Listen actively

Did you ever get the feeling, when talking to someone, that you were really talking to a wall? The person may have heard you but gave no indication of it at all. Avoid doing the same thing. When communicating with others, it's just as important that people be aware that you're listening as it is that you're actually listening. For that reason, be involved with and react to what the other person is saying, either via a nod, or an "I see," or a paraphrase of the other person's statements. You'll strengthen your own understanding and make a better impression.

3. Avoid negative questions

Negative language often presents an obstacle rather than a solution. The listener will likely come away with the impression that we're being obstructive rather than supportive and helpful. For example a question like, “You don’t monitor our website analytics, do you?” will likely get a defensive reaction and answer.

Suppose you say to a customer, "You don't have the latest updates installed?" and he answers "Yes." What does he mean? Yes, you're right, the update is not installed? Or yes, he DOES have the update installed?

4. Be sensitive to differences in technical knowledge

Chances are, your customers have less technical knowledge than you do. If you use acronyms, be sure you identify what the acronym means. With that being said, you don't want to make the opposite mistake either and talk down to them. Be alert to cues indicating what others understand. Ask them whether they understand what you're saying, if necessary.

5. Use analogies to explain technical concepts

A good way to explain a technical idea is to use an analogy. One of the best analogies I ever heard compared a firewall to a bank teller. When you enter a bank, you don't just go into the vault and get your money. Instead, you go to a window, where the teller verifies your identity and determines that you have enough money. The teller goes to the vault, brings it back to the window, gives it to you, and then you leave.

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6. Use positive instead of negative statements

Your customers are more interested in your capabilities than in your limitations. In other words, they're interested in what you can do, rather than what you can't do. The way you say things to them influences how they perceive you and your company. You can be seen as a roadblock or a partner. Instead of saying, "I can't help you until I have the necessary information" try shifting to, "Once you can get me this information I’ll get right on it".

7. Remember that technical problems involve emotional reactions

When a customer or colleague has a problem, keep in mind that they'll almost always have an emotional reaction as well. Those emotions can range from simple annoyance to outright panic, depending on the importance of the issue. I'm not saying you have to be Dr. Phil, but it's important to acknowledge and recognize these emotional reactions. If all you do is solve the technical problem and walk away, chances are the person you are working with will still be upset.

In these cases, simply saying something like, "Pain in the neck, isn't it?" or "I hate when that happens to me" can help others feel better about the situation and possibly feel more positive about you.

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8. Be as transparent as possible

Believe it or not, a full quarter of employees don’t trust their employer, according to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey of 1,562 U.S. workers. What’s more, the survey also found that only about half believe their employer is open and upfront with them.

This lack of trust is likely due to a lack of transparency in the workplace. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their employees. Employees who are kept in the loop and understand their role in the overarching purpose and goals of the company are, understandably, more likely to put their trust in their employer which results in higher engagement, buy-in and productivity.

We’re probably all guilty of having arranged or participated in a secret backchannel conversation on more than one occasion in our work lives. This is a surefire way to corrode trust within an organization.

On a customer level, we can all relate to Michael Scott’s avoidance in delivering bad news. We like to report back with news that tasks have been finished or completed. However, if a customer leaves you a request, let them know you received it even if you are still in the process of handling it. Doing so gives the customer one less matter to worry about.

When a problem is resolved, let the customer know that, too. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than finding out that they could have been working sooner if they had only known.

Brittany LeMaro